Myths and Legends of Ancient Greece and Rome

Page: 167

At length they reached the island of Trinacria (Sicily), whereon the sun-god pastured his flocks and herds, and Odysseus, calling to mind the warning of Tiresias to avoid this sacred island, would fain have steered the vessel past and left the country unexplored. But his crew became mutinous, and insisted on landing. Odysseus was therefore obliged to yield, but before allowing them to set foot on shore he made them take an oath not to touch the sacred herds of Helios, and to be ready to sail again on the following morning.

It happened, unfortunately, however, that stress of weather compelled them to remain a whole month at Trinacria, and the store of wine and food given to them by Circe at parting being completely exhausted, they were obliged to subsist on what fish and birds the island afforded. Frequently there was not sufficient to satisfy their hunger, and one evening when Odysseus, worn out with anxiety and fatigue, had fallen asleep, Eurylochus persuaded the hungry men to break their vows and kill some of the sacred oxen.

Dreadful was the anger of Helios, who caused the hides of the slaughtered animals to creep and the joints on the spits to bellow like living cattle, and threatened that unless Zeus punished the impious crew he would withdraw his light from the heavens and shine only in Hades. Anxious to appease the enraged deity Zeus assured him that his cause should be avenged. When, therefore, after feasting for seven days Odysseus and his companions again set sail, the ruler of Olympus caused a terrible storm to overtake them, during which the ship was struck with lightning and went to pieces. All the crew were drowned except Odysseus, who, clinging to a mast, floated about in the open sea for nine days, when, after once more [317]escaping being sucked in by the whirlpool of Charybdis, he was cast ashore on the island of Ogygia.

Calypso.—Ogygia was an island covered with dense forests, where, in the midst of a grove of cypress and poplar, stood the charming grotto-palace of the nymph Calypso, daughter of the Titan Atlas. The entrance to the grotto was entwined with a leafy trellis-work of vine-branches, from which depended clusters of purple and golden grapes; the plashing of fountains gave a delicious sense of coolness to the air, which was filled with the songs of birds, and the ground was carpeted with violets and mosses.

Calypso cordially welcomed the forlorn and shipwrecked hero, and hospitably ministered to his wants. In the course of time she became so greatly attached to him that she offered him immortality and eternal youth if he would consent to remain with her for ever. But the heart of Odysseus turned yearningly towards his beloved wife Penelope and his young son. He therefore refused the boon, and earnestly entreated the gods to permit him to revisit his home. But the curse of Poseidon still followed the unfortunate hero, and for seven long years he was detained on the island by Calypso, sorely against his will.

At length Pallas-Athene interceded with her mighty father on his behalf, and Zeus, yielding to her request, forthwith despatched the fleet-footed Hermes to Calypso, commanding her to permit Odysseus to depart and to provide him with the means of transport.

The goddess, though loath to part with her guest, dared not disobey the commands of the mighty Zeus. She therefore instructed the hero how to construct a raft, for which she herself wove the sails. Odysseus now bade her farewell, and alone and unaided embarked on the frail little craft for his native land.

Nausicaa.—For seventeen days Odysseus contrived to pilot the raft skilfully through all the perils of the deep, directing his course according to the directions [318]of Calypso, and guided by the stars of heaven. On the eighteenth day he joyfully hailed the distant outline of the Phæacian coast, and began to look forward hopefully to temporary rest and shelter. But Poseidon, still enraged with the hero who had blinded and insulted his son, caused an awful tempest to arise, during which the raft was swamped by the waves, and Odysseus only saved himself by clinging for bare life to a portion of the wreck.

For two days and nights he floated about, drifted hither and thither by the angry billows, till at last, after many a narrow escape of his life, the sea-goddess Leucothea came to his aid, and he was cast ashore on the coast of Scheria, the island of the luxurious Phæaces. Worn out with the hardships and dangers he had passed through he crept into a thicket for security, and, lying down on a bed of dried leaves, soon fell fast asleep.

It chanced that Nausicaa, the beautiful daughter of king Alcinous and his queen Arete, had come down to the shore, accompanied by her maidens, to wash the linen which was destined to form part of her marriage portion. When they had finished their task they bathed and sat down to a repast, after which they amused themselves with singing and playing at ball.

Their joyous shouts at last awoke Odysseus, who, rising from his hiding place, suddenly found himself in the midst of the happy group. Alarmed at his wild aspect the attendants of Nausicaa fled in terror; but the princess, pitying the forlorn condition of the stranger, addressed him with kind and sympathetic words. After hearing from him the account of his shipwreck and the terrible hardships he had undergone, Nausicaa called back her attendants, reproached them for their want of courtesy, and bade them supply the wanderer with food, drink, and suitable raiment. Odysseus then left the maidens to resume their games, whilst he bathed and clothed himself with the garments with which they had furnished him. Athene now appeared to the hero and endowed him with a commanding and magnificent stature, and with more than mortal beauty. When he reappeared, the young [319]princess was struck with admiration, and requested the hero to visit the palace of her father. She then desired her attendants to yoke the mules to the wagons and prepare to return home.

Odysseus was cordially received by the king and queen, who entertained him with magnificent hospitality, and in return for their kindness the hero related to them the history of his long and eventful voyage, and the many extraordinary adventures and miraculous escapes which had befallen him since his departure from the coast of Ilion.